• Celebrating Emily Wilding Davison

    I have just spent an amazing day in Morpeth at the Emily Inspires

    centenary celebrations for Emily Wilding Davison the suffragette who

    died pinning a Votes for Women scarf on the King's Horse in June 1913.

    She was the first martyr for women's rights. This is the speech I gave in

    the church this afternoon. June 15 2013. She is the first great feminist

    icon - all of us owe her a debt....

    It is a great honour to be here with you all today in this beautiful,

    peaceful old church.

    Reading about Emily's life and the sacrifices she made - force fed 49

    times, assaulted with an icy hose, having her cell door rammed open,

    which if it had fallen on her, would have killed her... not to mention

    the fall which so wounded her neck and back in prison and her final

    gesture of defiance and protest at the Derby...

    Emily - your courage and steadfastness in the face of adversity and

    the lesson it teaches is as valid today as it ever was.

    Every young woman today owes their wide range of life choices and

    options to the suffragettes who fought so bravely so that we could be

    free. We stand on the shoulders of giants - when the going gets tough,

    we should never forget that.

    So Emily - thank you. Thanks you for what your contemporary described

    as your 'pyrotechnic intelligence and cheerfulness' - your doggedness,

    commitment, faith and  willingness to pay the ultimate price for

    women's liberation.

    It is now up to all of us to carry your flame boldly for the next 100

    years - so that in a century's time people in an even more equal

    world will honour Emily but also the millions of individual women who

    carried Emily in their hearts and brought the revolution that started

    so long ago finally to fruition.   it seems fitting to end with a line

    from one of Emily's favourite hymns: Fight the Good Fight with all thy

    might! After all, there is still so much to do!

    Emily - your courage and steadfastness in the face of adversity and

    the lesson it teaches is as valid today as it ever was.

    Every young woman today owes their wide range of life choices and

    options to the suffragettes who fought so bravely so that we could be

    free. We stand on the shoulders of giants - when the going gets tough,

    we should never forget that.

    So Emily - thank you. Thanks you for what your contemporary described

    as your 'pyrotechnic intelligence and cheerfulness' - your doggedness,

    commitment, faith and  willingness to pay the ultimate price for

    women's liberation.

    It is now up to all of us to carry your flame boldly for the next 100

    years - so that in a century's time people in an even more equal

    world will honour Emily but also the millions of individual women who

    carried Emily in their hearts and brought the revolution that started

    so long ago finally to fruition.   it seems fitting to end with a line

    from one of Emily's favourite hymns: Fight the Good Fight with all thy

    might! After all, there is still so much to do!

    In fact it is the very violent and total nature of her struggle, her

    belief... for which she paid the ultimate price that should act as a

    beacon to women today..

    It is a hundred years since Emily died for the cause she treasured

    more than her own life. One of her favourite phrases was that of

    another even more famous female warrior, Joan of Arc : Fight and God

    will give the Victory.

    Well gathered here in this church which contains not just Emily's

    grave but that of her beloved sister, Ethel (who died when she was

    only six)  - I hope Emily, a fervent believer, is resting peacefully,

    sure in the knowledge that ultimately God did give the victory she so

    passionately desired.  or some of it anyway.

    For life is very different now. Emily had three degrees but she lived

    in a time when the only job open to her was as a governess. Today,

    young women make up over half of all university graduates, more than

    half of recently qualified solicitors, half of new doctors. We have a

    female Home Secretary, a woman in charge of the IMF and more

    importantly little girls grow up today knowing that they are equally

    valued and have equally good prospects as their male peers.

    I'm sure Emily would be glad of that.

    But we must not be complacent. Emily talked of 'Deeds not words' -

    there is no point having all these rights written as statutes if women

    do not step up and use them.

    The revolution in which Emily played such a key part is by no means

    over. I was raised by a constellation of powerful women; my mother was

    a university lecturer who had five children, my stepmother was in tony

    blair's cabinet and my aunt was the first female Director of Public

    Prosecutions. Born in 1970, I grew up in a country run by women - the

    Queen and Margaret Thatcher (whatever you think of her politics she

    showed a woman could do the top job).  I assumed that by the time I

    was 40, it would be 50/50 men and women running the world. Well... not

    exactly.

    The truth is we still live in a patriarchy. Only three of our top FTSE

    100 companies are run by women, women fall out of the management

    pyramid in droves once they have children, our Prime Minister talks

    about promoting women  but then has only a handful at his top table.

    The culture, particularly at the top, is still overwhelmingly blokey,

    macho and excluding of women.  But if that is to change women need to

    not drop out but to stand up and fight to change the culture.  It is up

    to every single one of us - as Emily demonstrates - to do our bit.

    I have seen too many of my highly educated peers blown off course by

    the gusty headwinds of expensive childcare, or blokey cultures at work

    or having a husband whose needs have trumped their own. They have also

    been seduced by a pink-cupcaked yummy-mummy guilt trip which has seen

    to many of them give up on their own ambitions.  This is not just

    about the pram in the hall but about men  circling the wagons of

    power, still trying to play the old tunes about whether women' have

    what it takes' to make it to the top, to join the male elite who still

    run the world. That is still a lonely place for a woman to be.

    Of course we have taken mighty strides since Emily's day: in1900 there

    were only a handful of female doctors and no women in parliament - 100

    years on things are immensely better but we are not there yet. Emily

    gave her life for her unshakeable belief that women and men were equal

    - but women still face barriers. It is still usually a woman's role to

    run the home and know where the gym kit is - men need to do their

    share to free women to grasp what is rightfully their's.

    Last week the CEO of the chartered Institute of Management gave a

    speech in which she warned that women are slipping backwards, with

    less of them making it up the ranks than ten years ago. In media where

    I work I am still too often the only woman in meetings, I wage a daily

    campaign still against sexist attitudes, news lists with no women doing

    great things - unless we women are at the table, we can't change

    anything.  And there is still much to do:  women are still oppressed by

    domestic violence, lower pay, the pornification of the culture which

    increasingly teaches our young women to value themselves only for how

    they look not for what they are and what they think. And despite 100

    years of the vote, women still do the majority of caring and domestic

    work as well as being expected to bring home the bacon.

    The equality revolution that Emily so desired is still a work in

    progress. But if we are to drive it on, we all need to play our part.

    Yes, it's hard to do the double shift - a job, a career, and manage a

    family - but that's where men need to step up to the plate and do

    their fair share too. Women need to fulfil their ambitions and

    potential. When you are thinking of throwing in the towel, deciding

    its too hard and the men can just get on with it, remember Emily. She

    wasn't just tired and guilty and frazzled and skint and pulled in too

    many directions -  she was having 4ft of tubing rammed down her

    throat, held down an forcibly fed and violated by 12 people in a grim

    prison cell to stand up for the rights that too many women now take

    for granted.

    The truth is we can't stand back and say feminsm is a dirty word and

    all the battles are won because we've got lots of equality laws on the

    stature book - we need to fight to make them real on the ground. IF WE

    ARE NOT GOING FORWARDS WE ARE GOING BACKWARDS.

    The good news is that I see a reinvigoration of the feminist cause

    around me in the younger women I work with and that I meet. They are

    hungry and they are impatient... the enthusiasm with which Emily's

    legacy has been grasped on this her centenary is proof of that. My

    young colleague at The Sunday Times  Lucy Fisher has just written a

    brilliant book about Emily's life. Lucy is a war correspondent, a

    brave, beautiful fearless girl... her mother is a Northumberland

    Davison, in fact she is one of Emily's distant descendants. The fact

    that there are millions like Lucy,  bravely  taking their place in

    what was once a man's world is a tribute to Emily. I hope that having

    begun so promisingly - Lucy and her ilk now outstrip their male peers

    in terms of earning and ambition in their twenties - they carry on

    fighting the good fight and remain in the world into their thirties,

    forties and beyond. I hope the feminist ball, that my generation

    partly dropped, out of complacency that the battles were already won

    and the seductive lure of the siren rocks of yummy-mummy 1950s

    regression, will be firmly picked up by Generation Y.   But it is not

    just about young women.

    Last week new figures showed that there are a million over 65s in work.

    Many of these are women who perhaps took time out to raise their

    families who are now earning again and taking their place in the world

    - we need to recognise that women at all phases of life have much to

    offer and give them good routes back into fulfilling and well-paid

    work. Feminism is about choice. Emily valued most highly the support,

    friendship and love she received from her suffragette comrades,

    partners in the struggle. Rather than judging other women for their

    choices, or being undermining about each other, we women today, like

    those earlier comrades, must stand together. We must allow women to

    power down to raise their families if that is their choice, but then

    support them to get back to their careers if that is what they want,

    so their talents are not wasted. Most of all we must continue the

    struggle against the reactionary forces which want to push women

    backwards.

    Emily was passionate about social equality, we must make sure that

    talented women from poorer backgrounds get a fair crack at the

    opportunities that should be their's - I read a dreadful story in this

    morning's papers about our divided country and how twice as many kids

    from wealthy Surrey go to Oxford University than from the whole of

    Wales.  Emily believed in opportunities for women and for the poor -

    her own family (her mother was the daughter of a Morpeth publican her

    father from the upper middle classes, but who died leaving the family

    in debt) showed her the need to give life chances to those from the

    wrong side of the tracks.  There is much work still to be done. Today

    I am sure Emily would be campaigning for diversity, inclusiveness and

    equality more broadly. Not to mention battling to end the scourge of

    such modern horrors as forced marriage, the sexual exploitation of

    children and Female Genital Mutilation.  We've learnt that misogyny

    doesn't disappear, it mutates, goes underground and bubbles up in new

    forms.. We must not be complacent.

    Emily - your courage and steadfastness in the face of adversity and

    the lesson it teaches is as valid today as it ever was.

    Every young woman today owes their wide range of life choices and

    options to the suffragettes who fought so bravely so that we could be

    free. We stand on the shoulders of giants - when the going gets tough,

    we should never forget that.

    So Emily - thank you. Thanks you for what your contemporary described

    as your 'pyrotechnic intelligence and cheerfulness' - your doggedness,

    commitment, faith and  willingness to pay the ultimate price for

    women's liberation.

    It is now up to all of us to carry your flame boldly for the next 100

    years - so that in a century's time people in an even more equal

    world will honour Emily but also the millions of individual women who

    carried Emily in their hearts and brought the revolution that started

    so long ago finally to fruition.   it seems fitting to end with a line

    from one of Emily's favourite hymns: Fight the Good Fight with all thy

    might! After all, there is still so much to do!

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